Bombay High Court on Thursday cautioned the police against rushing into registering offences on the basis of any complaint where someone’s religious sentiments have been hurt.
A bench of Justice VM Kanade and Justice Nutan Sardessai said that the “police need to apply their mind before rushing” into registering an offence on the grounds of ‘offended religious beliefs’ and that the “police must not cower down into submission every time someone cries wolf.”
Justice Kanade also said that the state police needed “training” and should be “sent to the Nashik police Academy.”
The observations came while the bench was hearing a plea filed by a wholesale footwear seller who, in 2014, had been booked by the police after a customer complained that the shoes he bought had the letter ‘M’ inscribed on the sole in such a way that it looked like the word ‘Allah’ written in Urdu.
He was booked for blasphemy under Section 295 A of the IPC, his godown in Thane was sealed, and his stock of shoes worth 1.5 lakh destroyed.
Justice Kanade said that this was a “classic case of non-application of mind and that it was a malicious prosecution” before he quashed the FIR.
He also said that the petitioner was not the manufacturer. The manufacturer was a “Muslim and it was common sense that he wouldn’t commit sacrilege.”
“This was a complaint made by just one individual, a third party, yet one of your bright officers promptly registered a case, subjected the petitioner to interrogation, mental agony, and humiliation. I believe they are more liberal than you (the police),” Justice Kanade said.
The bench added that while it was aware that often, the police can receive “flak if it refuses to register a case, it must check on whether the accused person had deliberately offended someone’s religious sentiments and that they must “thoroughly assess the situation and consult seniors if needed,” for such indiscriminate censure leads to “rumour mongering and causes further animosity among communities.”
Justice Kanade also cautioned citizens against making “allegations or complaints of their religious sentiments having been hurt.” He said, “As per the fundamental duties prescribed by the constitution, every citizen, including the police and the state authorities, are required to ensure communal harmony.”
The state government on its part argued that while at the time it had registered the case and detained the petitioner, it had later consulted some Urdu scholars and come to the conclusion that no offence was made out. Accordingly, it had already decided to quash the proceedings but was yet to inform the petitioner.